Whatever Happened to the Bug Zappers?

The bug zapper. For the past 30 years, that zip-zap seemed like practically a mainstay you’d hear in neighborhoods across the country. But if you take a listen in your neighborhood … you’ll notice something. The zapping has mostly disappeared.

In today’s broadcast, we’ve been talking about how to get rid of “critters” from invading your property, including those everyday pests that swarm, bite and can wreak havoc on your home.
One of the main defenses that home owners once used to ward off those everyday pests was the bug zapper–or also known as an electronic insect-control system, if you prefer the more formal name.

You’d hear that ZAP, and you knew another bug had just met its match, nuked in the midst of that big blue light.

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The devices did this by having a fluorescent light attached to a transformer. When a bug flew into the light.

But in our quest to fight bugs, we’ve developed new ways of getting to those mosquitoes, flies, and other invading insects–ways that don’t involve electrocution. We now spray them, nab them with sticky tape, or–as some creative types do— create traps using beer cans.

It’s not that we all grew this soft spot in our heart and decided we needed more humane ways to deal with the bugs, even if that Pixar movie “A Bug’s Life” made us feel a little more guilty for every zap. No, the main reason these bug zappers faded away is because they were found to be not as effective as we all once thought.

Many of the bug zappers said they could kill more than 10,000 insects in one evening. And we all believed it. The zappers fed a deep desire in our culture to actually see and hear the bugs fry. It became a cheap form of entertainment. The lights flashed and we cheered — we knew one more bug had just met its fate.

But then, home owners started saying — wait a minute. I’m zapping the bugs, I’m hearing them get zapped, but I still have a swarm of mosquitoes and other pests flying everywhere. What’s happening?

Well, researchers started looking into it. And they found that bug zappers were good at attracting some types of bugs, but not the bugs that are the most bothersome, like mosquitoes. And in some cases, the bug zappers were even making your mosquito problem worse.
Researchers at University of Notre Dame found that just as many mosquitoes, flies, and other pests swarmed around homes that had bug zappers than those that did not. And in one study conducted by University of Florida, researchers found that the bug zappers killed some 10,000 insects in one night, but only eight were mosquitoes. Instead, most of the victims were beneficial insects like beetles, moths, and ants that can help control other insect pests. So your bug problem could actually have been made worse.

Why aren’t the bug zappers effective at getting to those mosquitoes? Researchers found that mosquitoes aren’t as attracted as other insects to the ultraviolet light used in bug zappers. They tend to be more attracted to carbon dioxide exhaled by humans and pets. So they may notice the light, but then sense you around, and make a bee-line in your direction instead.
So a lot of home owners have pulled the plug on the bug zapper, realizing the bugs are much smarter than we all thought.

But while our bug zappers mostly have fallen silent, we’re not stopping in our quest: with Citronella, sprays, bug repellent, we keep up the fight. And the bugs know…that one way or another, we’ll get ‘em.

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